When I was about 4 or 5 I surrounded myself with “imaginary friends”. Most parents of onlies (or singlets as we’re called now) took the “imaginary friends” thing as a “well Johnny (or Mary) is lonely because he(she) doesn’t have any brothers or sisters to play with”. Maybe so. But those imaginary friends each had lives of their own. And I built worlds for them, and carried them everywhere with me. In the back seat of the car. In the bath. At play in my snow forts in the back yard. I was never lonely if I had my imaginary friends with me. And I was still able to socially function and make “real” friends, most likely because of them rather than in spite of them.
Back then, I didn’t think about writing down their stories. After all, I was just learning how to print. Printing is hard for a kid. You have to learn what all these strange squiggly, straight and curvy lines mean, and how to move your fingers in order to push a big chunky crayon or pencil to copy these lines so that someone else can understand what it is that you've "written" on the piece of paper in front of you. Most kids just draw pictures. I really wasn’t into that. I had (and still have) no patience when it comes to drawing. I remember drawing a picture of a house in less than ten seconds and getting in trouble from my kindergarten teacher because I didn't take my time. The picture said what I wanted to say: Here's a house. But if you had asked me to describe the house, I could have woven a tale that would have rivalled a Tolkein novel.
So I could use words to talk about my imaginary friends, but I could never draw them, and I wasn't yet physically ready to write down the words that I used. They were just people who lived with me in my head who went about their days when I was going about mine (in school, at dance class, having dinner, etc.). When I’d go to bed, we would have a chat for what was probably hours (though my parents were convinced I talked in my sleep) where they would tell me about their day and I would tell them about mine.
When and if this happens today, most parents throw their kids into the arms of psychologists or start shoving pills down their throats. Luckily, mine didn’t know better.
Once I got to high school, there was a forum for me to tell the world the stories of my imaginary friends. Creative writing. Assignments were easy for me and I did well. My teachers praised my creativity. But of course, writing is not a career that immigrant parents choose for their child, and since I was so painfully shy and had no backbone whatsoever, except for the fact that I was adamant that I did not want to become an accountant, I compromised with my parents and went to university for something that I might have had a shot at doing, and possibly enjoy doing, for the rest of my life. I thought being a translator would allow me to at least travel. Until I didn’t make the mark. I failed the entrance test simply because I used creativity in my translations – I wasn’t literal enough. Though I did take creative writing. And my pieces were shot down by a teacher (I doubt if he was truly qualified to be a 'professor') whose own ego was crushed after losing the Governor General’s prize to Ondaatje. So he took it out on us. Anyone who was remotely good got a passable mark; anyone who produced the literary equivalent of blancmange got the highest marks. One of my classmates deliberately wrote a bland piece full of cliches and her marks went from Cs to As overnight. (This same classmate wrote me a letter once when I was feeling dejected and frustrated about my fruitless attempts to get high marks and high praise in this class, which became one of my most prized possessions.)
I still constantly carry characters in my head. Whether I drop them into already existing scenarios like I do with the fanfic pieces, or whether I create new worlds for them, they live with me. I feel the need to share my friends' stories with the world. Well once I get the courage to actually post some of these stories, I will. I did take a giant step when I named my son after my main protagonist in my first (unpublished non-fanfic) novel. He looks nothing like my main character, but he is my creation that I am sharing with the world, bridging the gap between fiction and reality. How crazy is that? Certifiable? Probably. But I'm glad nobody knows any better.